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Firestone Incline Level and the Second Decline, Groverake Mine, (07/11/09).

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Carrying on from our last visit to the Rake Level, and the failed attempt at getting to the bottom of the wet shaft, this time we had brought (just enough) a longer length of rope. After speaking with other explorers and someone who had worked at the mine it turned out the wet shaft we had attempted last time connected with the Firestone Incline Level - it had been a second means of egress. The information provided and what we could fathom out was a little confusing: the incline is flooded to the roof, or rather seems to be flooded to the roof when you go down it from the surface, however, there is a strong draft of air going down the shaft - a few options, the air is getting through the so called flooded bit, getting through somewhere else or just being forced down the shaft by the water and not really going anywhere - time to see.

After giving Pete a quick tour of what we had found last time and having lunch, we headed for the wet shaft. With 33m of rope we hoped that it would be enough to reach the bottom. Damming the water, we succeeded in pretty much stopping the water down the shaft. Rigging it up, Karli, yet again proceeded to climb down the steel ladders, after a while we could not hear him, with him not coming back up and seeing his light move around, we took it as an indicator to come down. I started down the ladders using the safety line with my hand jammer. The shaft was in good condition, however some of the woodwork and attachments of the ladders were a little shaky - give me 150 year old timber work from Smallcleugh anytime! I went past many platforms and had to switch orientation a few times, and towards the bottom of the shaft it was getting very wet from general water seepage. The last few stages had to be abseiled as the ladders were missing. Finally I saw Karli and he told me there was a level, open, not flooded, gaining entry into modern workings - the excitement was rising! The safety line we had rigged just about reached the bottom, about a metre short of the floor making the shaft around the 28m mark. I tried my best to shout up to Pete and hoped he would come down. Whilst waiting for him, we had a look in the level. There were lots of interesting items, wiring on the walls and floor, air hoses, an air driven ventilation fan, ventilation ducting, and plastic pipes to name a few things. When Pete joined us, we carried on up the level to reach a tee junction, which looked like it was the main branch of the Firestone Incline Level. At the junction there was a large steel airpipe with valves on it, as well as polythene bag type ventilation trunking. A left took us to a fall after a short while, but the right was open…

The level was not as wide as the ones up on the Rake Level, around 1.5m in all, it was steel arched and in slightly better condition. We followed it for around 20m or so and then reached what at first looked like a workshop, however entering it, it very quickly became apparent that this was a winder platform, with its associated decline that looked open. Taking stock of the surroundings we realised that the place seemed pristine with no real traces of modern visitors. Stepping towards the decline, we noted horribly distorted and cracked arching before us, not that inviting, but Pete just went through it, shouting back to us to join him. We hung around a bit and then Karli went after him, followed by myself. Past the cracked arching, there had been timbers installed in the middle of the decline to support the roof, which now were really beginning to take the strain - best not to think about such things. Once past these the decline was in good condition, and we could see the spectacular vivid green spar vein they had been chasing in the roof. We then heard Pete shouting that he was at the bottom; my first thoughts were that he was going to say that it was all flooded, wrong; it was waste deep in water and open. Catching up, we had a chat together and concluded that even though we were not that deep, there was a very strong sense of isolation about the place.

The level at the bottom of the decline was pretty much horizontal, and it had a submerged bogey near it. On the left there was a signalling bell, and just past this a battery charging station, with a sign that identified these workings as belonging to the British Steel Corporation. Moving further along, the level was driven in good sandstone and there was only a little bit of arching in place, until we came to a junction and then it changed to full on arching and timber work. We came to a few ore hoppers and in places could see up into stopes above, but they were not that inviting to climb up into. After a few doglegs we entered a section of passage that had fallen, but it was possible to climb up into the stope above. Again it did not look that inviting, but Pete climbed up to have a look around and after what seemed like an eternity came back with tails of spar lumps the size of houses and that it all was very loose and ready to come in, not a nice picture. At this point we turned back, finding the level a bit oppressive and once we had got to the top of the decline, I'm sure a group mental sigh had occurred.

Back on the main level, we headed onwards passing a few small falls and then we thought that it was the end of the line with the next fall, but it was open. Once on the other side we saw a big timber stack on top of the arching which was supporting an overhang of rock, with the fall material having come down from a stope. Past the fall there were a number of junctions, but we are not sure if these were blinds were they had gone wrong in following the vein? Past these there was a water tank at the entrance to a short crosscut with a steel ladder going up into a level or possibly a stope - something to be investigated another time. Moving on, we felt that level was going in the direction to the bottom of the Firestone Incline, and surely enough the water started to get deeper as we carried on. Eventually the arching really widened out and at the chest deep water point we nominated Pete to go on and have a look, since he was wearing his immersion suit. Whilst he went for a look we tried to see if a draft could be detected at this point in the level, nothing really but just to note - the air seemed very good. After a while Pete came back saying he had gone as far as the he could without getting water into his suit and he seemed to think that the level started to 'rectangular out', which is what the bottom of the incline looks like on the adit side. So near and yet so far - is there a link and way through?

We turned back thinking about what we had seen so far and when we would be back. On the way out Pete spotted a box tucked behind a steel arch, full of what appeared to be plastic coated sticks, crimped on the ends to form what could only be described as salamis, our only conclusion was that it was gelignite. Removing a piece of rock from the box, it came away with some of the plastic. A quick sniff resulted in a sickly sweet smell - can only be gelignite. Chatting to my explosive engineer friend, resulted in him saying 'bless', the sticks on further description to him turned out to be epoxy resin roofing adhesive cartridges, a tell tail red activator strip on the outside giving the game away.